The property sector can be called a late bloomer in the race to digitise the whole world. While sectors such as banking and finance, transport and health care were quicker to take advantage of developments in digital technology to create game-changing offerings, real estate is now picking up and marking its digital footprint.

Although the industry might have taken off digital-wise at a later stage, the rise of “prop-tech” in recent years spells a major leap. The boom in e-commerce where almost anything can be sold or transacted online — from airline tickets to safety pins — has made it easier for many industries to enter the digital era. However, the bricks and mortar — that is, actual homes and apartments or offices — cannot be bought or rented simply by seeing them from images or videos. Or so we think.

The industry is just rising to the reality of a digital world and it is responding positively. In fact, next-generation technology has muscled its way into the built environment sector — and many developers have incorporated digital developments into their systems to improve their processes.

As for property selling, most buyers are technology users with varying needs, and there are available digital solutions addressing every one of them given the magnitude of development and investments poured into IT in the last several decades. At present, the most common include online house-hunting platforms, internet-based advertising on brokerage services, and home financing facilities.

Services continue to become sophisticated and more buyers from the region are using virtual reality as an option for property viewing or experiencing prospective homes or offices.

Prop-tech investments were at $221 million (Dh812 million) in 2012 and increased to more than $2 billion in 2016, according to CB Insights. It may not be disruptive at present, but the potential is extremely high.

It is important to understand that the digital revolution sits on a mine of data — and data is an essential element for business growth. And as in any business, the other side of the coin to challenges is opportunities. Online platforms and web-based forums, mobile applications, remote communication, paperless transactions and data analytics are only some of the solutions that could improve the sector’s activities.

Connecting with investors and buyers, creating a competitive advantage in a saturated market, networking with other professionals and establishing credibility in the industry are just some of the concerns that need to be addressed.

In the UAE, an HSBC study shows that many UAE buyers appreciated the use of digital technology in information-gathering before they make decisions on buying a home. After all, these are lifetime investments that require a lot of research for a discerning buyer.

Research will play a key role in further pushing prop-tech’s value proposition. A high degree of collaboration between the prop-tech and brokerage market will be needed as well to help the sector grow.

Now is the time to take advantage of the opportunities in digital technology, as many cities in the region experience a boom in their property markets brought on by growing populations and expanding urbanisation. It should also be considered that governments such as Dubai’s are supportive and actively participate in providing the structure for smart cities.

The technology is there for the taking, it only needs a few bold moves to really push prop-tech right into the heart of the digital world.

— The writer is CEO of Realopedia.